March/April 2011

Iron woman's global challenge

An ambitious agenda for IOC president

By Richard Andrews

A challenging economic climate, a competitive global market, company expansion, a corporate makeover and even floods – these are just some of the challenges for Zoë Yujnovich during her first 12 months as president and CEO of the Iron Ore Company of Canada (IOC), the country’s largest iron ore producer.

Yujnovich, 36, is the youngest person and first woman to head IOC, a leading global supplier of iron ore pellets and concentrates to steel producers in North America, Europe and Asia. With mining, concentrator and pelletizing operations in Labrador City, Newfoundland and Labrador, the Montreal-based company also operates the Quebec North Shore and Labrador Railway to ship ore concentrate and pellets from the mines to the port of Sept-Îles, Quebec. Educated in Australia, Yujnovich is a veteran of the international mining group Rio Tinto, IOC’s major shareholder and operator. Prior to February 2010, she was president of Rio Tinto Brazil. CIM interviewed Yujnovich on the eve of her first anniversary at IOC.

CIM: It’s minus 18 today in Montreal. What was it like moving from the sun and beaches of Rio de Janeiro to come and work in Canada?

Yujnovich: We’ve moved a lot as a family. We have a daughter born in Brazil, a son born in America and another daughter born in Australia. Coming to Montreal was one of our easiest transitions. Things function well here and we love the outdoors. Last weekend we went snowshoeing. We make the most of every place we live.

CIM: How would you compare the operating conditions in both countries?

Yujnovich: The basic mining process around the world is pretty much the same. The differences between Brazil and Canada, I guess, are more around the people who work in the mines and their cultural influences. Rio Tinto’s Brazilian iron ore operation actually won the Rio Tinto Chief Executive Safety Award three years in a row for Best in Class Safety Performance. That’s not something that fits many people’s image of mining in Brazil. The employees were genuinely very thankful to be working in the mine. They saw it as a good job. They were well trained, well paid by local standards and had sustainable employment for a long period of time. These are all things that cut to the core of a developing country. As a result, the workforce was highly engaged, motivated and interested in the improvement of the workplace. We want to generate a similar engagement here in our Canadian operation.

CIM: You came in with a mandate for change. What have been the most significant areas that have been addressed to date?

Yujnovich: The first one would be aligning the people in the business with what we need to deliver. My executive team has undergone a number of changes to make sure it has clarity about how we’re going to drive the company forward.

The second main change has involved sustainable development while changing the health, safety and environmental practices of the company. We’ve had some great improvements over the past decade, but there’s a need to seriously revamp those aspects.

And third is how we deliver. We’ve always had a clear picture of what we need to deliver, but how we do it has always been a little more difficult to articulate. We spent a lot of time in the past year constructing a compelling vision of what we need to do differently.

IOC’s strategy is to be competitive in the global iron ore industry. Historically, we’ve been very much a regional player, appropriately, given the market into America and Europe. But being competitive on a global basis requires us to think very differently about how we deliver our product into the marketplace – predominantly China and Asia. While that’s interesting intellectually, practically, it’s difficult to make that mean much to the broader workforce.

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